Beneath Kenneth Chu’s Quiet, Gentle Demeanor Lurks A Warrior Chef Who Is Ready To Make His Own Mark: Arizona Culinary Institute’s January 2015 Student of the Month Works Hard & Dreams Big
Kenneth Chu, Arizona Culinary Institute’s January 2015 Student of the Month, can’t remember a time that he wasn’t in a restaurant. Raised in Tucson, Arizona, his grandparents ran the Dragon Palace, and from an early age, he was surrounded my family members who were dedicated to making traditional Chinese food from scratch, loving modified to conform to the American palette.
“My grandmother, Ruby, would always cook our home meals,” recalls Chu. “She’d make doughy pot stickers with pork sausage, onions, chives, and a little salt and pepper and I always wanted to cook with her.” By the age of 14, Chu was paying his dues as a dish boy, sweeping and mopping the floors, but he quickly advanced, and by 16, he was cooking with a wok, practicing the special skill for hours on end.
After high school, however, his grandparent’s sold the restaurant, and Kenneth made a brief detour, and entered community college, thinking that he may become a pharmaceutical technician. The urge to cook and create, however, never left Chu’s mind, and he soon found himself at the Tucson Country Club where he quickly rose from food runner, to expediter to Garde Manager Chef. “Kenneth Foy, the Executive Chef at the Tucson Country Club was really a mentor to me and encouraged me to follow my dreams,” confides Chu. “Another team member, Kimberly Robertson, told me about Arizona Culinary Institute, and suddenly, my path was clear. I found a chance to complete my education, and actually do what I love.”
At ACI, Chu has excelled, and he has found a new mentor in Chef Philip Sayre, one of ACI’s elite chef instructors.
“I can close my eyes and hear Chef Sayre say, ‘Strive for perfection, and achieve excellence,’ smiles Chu. “If I had to describe Kenneth Chu in one word, it would be ‘exuberance,’ remarks Arizona Culinary Institute’s Chef Philip Sayre. “His passion and zest for the culinary arts are second to none, and he’s so pleasant and fun to be around. His passion for this industry can only benefit those around him.”
Chu believes that by going the extra mile and setting yourself at a higher standard, you can succeed; qualities he no doubt inherited from his family. This easy-going attitude serves Chu well, and keeps him calm under pressure in a service business that is often demanding, but also rewarding. “I just love cooking,” laughs Chu, whose go-to dish when friends are over is Mahi-Mahi Tacos, served with homemade mango salsa with onions, and Tomatillo sauce on the side.
Chu is slated to graduate in June of this year, and he’ll be performing his externship at the prestigious Phoenician Resort. He envisions himself as the executive chef of his own restaurant one day, aptly called Modern Palette, modernist cuisine infused with Asian sensibilities and some molecular gastronomy thrown in for good measure.
“My grandfather always taught me to work hard, dream big, and never give up,” intones Chu. “He’s still alive and vibrant at the age of 93, and I want him to visit my restaurant, and make him, and everyone in my family proud.”